Chapter 12

In January, 1901, after having commanded the Gunnery School for about two and a half years, I was nominated for the command of the Training Squadron, which I should have liked very much, but the Director of Naval Ordnance, Captain Jeffries, was suddenly relieved and, much to my disappointment, I had to go to the Admiralty as Director of Naval Ordnance (D.N.O.). A few months later I was offered, and accepted, the Controllership, relieving Sir Arthur Wilson. The Lords of the Admiralty at that time were Lord Selborne, First Lord; Lord Walter Kerr, First Sea Lord; Sir Archibald Douglas, Second Sea Lord; myself Third Sea Lord; and Admiral Durnford, Fourth Sea Lord. The Controller in those days had a very responsible position; the Departments under his control were Director of Naval Construction, the Engineer-in-Chief, the Director of Dockyards, and the Director of Stores.

When I relieved Sir Arthur Wilson there were many important subjects that had to be settled. In the first place, there were three Committees: one was inquiring into the defects of the boilers, due to the introduction of the type known as the “Belleville”; the second Committee was on the design of destroyers, some of which had been giving a great deal of trouble; and the third was on the question of the stability of the new Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert.

The Boiler Committee was composed of both civil and naval engineer officers, with Admiral Domville as Chairman; the predominant man on the Committee was Professor Kennedy. At that time the “Belleville” boiler had been adopted, without adequate trials, by Admiral Fisher when Controller, and the Engineer-in-Chief, Durston; when I took over as Controller the state of the ships fitted with these boilers was very bad. If we had gone to war at that time the results would have been disastrous. Many of the ships after three months’ service had to have their boilers completely overhauled. The cost was great, but this was nothing in comparison to the; fart that the ships for several months were quite useless. The “Belleville” boiler had been adopted by the French with, some success, but before they adopted it they had the necessary special machinery for making the tubes and boilers, and we had neither the machinery nor the experience.

The Boiler Committee sat for a long time and finally recommended the “Babcock and Wilcox” and the “Yarrow” boilers. The Engineer-in-Chief did not approve of the latter; eventually I had to order the “Yarrow” to be put into certain ships. The Boiler Committee also recommended some of the ships being fitted half with Scotch boilers and half with “Babcock and Wilcox” boilers. The Sea Lords were all against this fitting, but the First Sea Lord, Lord Selborne, preferred to take the advice of the Committee, which afterwards proved wrong; luckily only two or three ships were fitted in this way.

The repair work necessary for these “Belleville” boilers could not in all cases be undertaken by the dockyards, and I had to persuade the Board to have the work done by private yards on a percentage system. Altogether, we spent something like half a million of money repairing these boilers, and they were never entirely satisfactory.

The destroyers had a reputed speed of 30 knots, but this speed could only be obtained on a light draught: that is to say, only sufficient coal was put into the bunkers to take them over the measured mile; consequently, when these destroyers were filled up with coal, provisions, and ammunition, their speed was reduced some five or six knots. The design of the boats and the machinery was very light, and they were constantly breaking down. The Committee was almost entirely composed of practical naval officers who had commanded destroyers, and they were unanimous that the hulls and the engines should be very much strengthened, even if we had to give up a certain amount of speed, so a design called the “River Class” was adopted, of a stronger build, to carry a full load on their trials; this reduced the full speed to 26 knots. When these vessels went to the Mediterranean the Commander-in-Chief there sent reports condemning them, saying that they were not as good as the old ones; this was taken up by the agitators and questions were asked in Parliament. Luckily the Manoeuvres had just begun, and the old and new destroyers were ordered to proceed with all .despatch from Plymouth to Queenstown. It was blowing a fresh breeze, the old destroyers had to turn back; they could not stand up against the sea, whereas the new ones (the “River Class”) arrived at Queenstown without any defects, and were thus shown to be good sea boats.

Originally Queen Victoria wished to have the new Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert, designed and built by a private firm, but the Director of Naval Construction, Sir William White, who was known rightly as one of the cleverest designers of ships, pointed out that he could design yachts as well as ships, and eventually was allowed to do so. She was built at Pembroke, but unfortunately the constructors at that dockyard built everything, and all the upper works, much stronger than was necessary, thus putting a great deal of weight on the top side; there was also some mistake in the calculations for stability; so that when completed and the water let into the dock, she would have turned over if she had not been prevented by want of space. The question was whether she could ever be made safe for a Royal Yacht, and it was decided that this could be done by shortening the masts, removing a good deal of the top hamper and putting in a certain amount of ballast. The instability of the yacht was a great blow to Sir William White. He was a man of much ability, intelligence and experience, worked very hard, and was always lecturing after he had completed his work at the Admiralty; but the mishap to the Royal Yacht told on him so much that it affected his health and he had to resign; for this I was very sorry. His place was taken by Mr. Philip Watts, the then Chief Constructor at Armstrongs.

Submarines at that time (1901) were just coming to the front. We had purchased four of the Holland class from America with a view to trying them. We also started one that was built by Vickers from the Admiralty and Vickers designs; Admiral Bacon was attached to my Department, specially to look after submarines. He carried out his work in a most efficient manner, and before my time was up, submarines were a practical proposition.

The question of ships burning oil fuel was also much discussed, and my advice, which was accepted, was to set up a special experimenting station at Haslar, with a view to carrying out experiments for discovering the most efficient manner of burning oil sprayed on coal. The Engineer-in-Chief, Sir John Durston, was against it, as he used to tell me it was “a dodge for lazy stokers,” and that was the reason the Italians had adopted it. I had read up a certain amount, and knew, that it had been a success in the Italian Navy; it had also been used in the Black Sea for many years, and I was keen to go on with it. The chief difficulty, which we eventually practically solved, was to burn it without making too much smoke. The Engineer officer who assisted me, and who carried out the experiments with great ability and efficiency, was Chief Inspector of Machinery Melrose. Before leaving the Controllership in 1905, I was able to report to the Board that I was prepared to recommend oil fuel being used as an auxiliary in all ships, but I said the one thing we had to be quite sure about was maintaining the supply of oil. The Board of Admiralty then set up a strong committee of experts with Mr. Pretyman (who was one of the Civil Lords) as Chairman, and they issued their Report and recommended that steps should be taken to open up privately both the Persian and Trinidad oil fields, and this was done. In 1905, my Flagship, King Edward VII, was the first ship to burn oil sprayed on the coal, and the other ships of that class were also fitted to do so. All this work was quite forgotten when Admiral Fisher came in, about three years later. He started using oil fuel as if it had never been done before, making out that he was the originator of the idea.

During my first visit to the dockyards, I found four of the Exmouth class, which had been launched more than three years before, still waiting for their armaments at Chatham. Previous to this, when Sir John Fisher was Controller, the Majestic had been completed in about eighteen months, and everybody said, “What a wonderful achievement!” But apparently Sir John did not care about the rapidity of the construction of the other ships being built, and it made me think a little. I asked the Director of Naval Construction, Sir William White, and the Engineer-in-Chief, Sir John Durston, why we could not have these ships completed by the private firms who built them; they said it was quite impossible and that if I tried to have this done it would be a failure. Naturally, I respected their opinion, and especially that of Sir William White, who had more experience than I had in this work. Apparently, the naval constructors considered that the private firms who built the ships had not enough experience to put the armament on board without their supervision, also in some cases the draught of water at some of the building ports was not sufficient. When Sir William White resigned, I decided, after consulting the private firms, to have all ships completed where they were built. This entailed a good deal of extra work, and I had Captain (now Lord) Jellicoe appointed to assist me; and in two years’ time the private firms were able to complete the ships in every detail in the contract time. It was, and is now, generally acknowledged that private firms can do the work as well as, if not better than, the dockyards.

A suggestion to standardize the machinery in the different classes of ships was made to me by one of the Civil Lords, Arnold Forster, who was always very keen on machinery. I asked the Engineer-in-Chief, Sir John Durston, who said it was impracticable. However, I decided to try it; and as we had two cruisers at that time whose contracts had been accepted by two private firms, I arranged to have a committee meeting, with the Engineer-in-Chief, the next man on his staff, Oram, one of the younger Engineer officers, and the two managers of the private firms who were just starting to build these cruisers. The managers of the private firms thought it would be very difficult to do in the first place, they said it would be more expensive and take more time. (I may say here, as a note, that the contractors were always trying to get more time for their contracts.) I asked them how much money and how much time, and then agreed that they should have extra money and time. After that we discussed in detail different parts of the machinery and decided on certain changes. We had two meetings; and at the third meeting, when I said, “We will meet again in another month,” they replied, “Sir, we need not have any more meetings; we can arrange the rest amongst ourselves.” When the standardization of these cruisers was completed it was found to be a very great advantage, because if one part of the machinery broke down, we could always send straight away and get a spare part, all the jigs and gauges being so accurate that one part from one engine would fit into another. After it was done, Sir John Durston came to me and said, “We did a splendid thing in standardizing machinery.” I said, “Yes, Sir John; but I don’t know that you helped me very much”; and I added, “Why do you say that?” He replied, “Because the piston-rods are now absolutely round.” This astonished me, and I said, “You mean to say the piston-rods were not round before?” “No,” said he, “not really absolutely round, as we had not got the necessary jigs and gauges.”

There was also a committee on bread-making, and they reported that they did not consider it a good thing to make bread on board ships, as the men would get out of the way of eating biscuits. This Report came to me first, before going to the other Lords, and I at once sent for the Director of Stores and said, “I wish you would go into the City and find out which is the most efficient electrical bread-making plant that we have in England.” He reported accordingly, so I ordered half a dozen of them and arranged to have them put into the King Edward VII class, which were then under construction, and I sent a memo to the Fourth Sea Lord asking him to provide bakers. I was much amused afterwards by the First Sea Lord and the Fourth Sea Lord coming in to my room apparently in disapproval of my action. They said the Report had never been before the Board. I said, “No, it has not; but surely we must start making bread on board our ships when practically every foreigner does it.” However, they were quite agreeable to it going on, provided every ship carried a certain amount of biscuit. Then the First Lord saw a great many machines for making bread in the Annual Store List, and he asked me about it; and again he said that the Report had not been before the Board and asked why I had not consulted the Board. I gave him my reasons, and he replied, “I think you are quite right.”

Another important thing that was done was improving the dockyards; in this I was very greatly assisted by the Director of Dockyards, Sir James Williamson. He had been trained as a Royal Naval Constructor in the dockyards, but had left and had been employed by private firms, eventually becoming director of a private shipbuilding yard. He was broadminded and did a great deal of good work. Amongst other improvements were electrifying the machinery, fitting electric lighting to the yards, and adopting more modern plant. He used, with my consent, to send two engineers over to the United States nearly every year to find out which were the most up-to-date machines; and on their report many of the new machines were bought for use in the dockyards.

I found Mr. Philip Watts (afterwards Sir Philip Watts), the Director of Naval Construction, who relieved Sir William White, a most charming man, but very casual; he would always say he would do anything I wanted, then go away and apparently never think any more about it. If the First Sea Lord had sent for him and told him he wanted the moon, I believe he would have said “Yes,” gone away, and not thought about it again.

Amongst other things I wanted done was to get a ship built that would reduce the damage done by the explosion of a Whitehead torpedo or a mine, and I asked Mr. Watts to get out a section of a ship with a view to experimenting with the different charges and gaining experience by degrees. I sent also for two of his younger constructors, telling them the one thing we wanted was a ship that could not be sunk by a White-head torpedo or mines. After about a month, I asked Mr. Watts when I was going to have this design. “Oh,” he said, “I quite forgot all about it.” The same thing happened next month; and at last I got out a design in a very rough way and told him to get it perfected; he made no suggestions. Eventually we experimented with two designs; they were not quite a success. Mr. Watts took so little interest in the matter, and having a great deal of other work on my hands I could not pay the necessary attention to the experiments, and much to my regret, I had to defer the work for the time.

Mr. Watts was preparing the design of a battleship and wanted to adopt two rudders, which I think was a big experiment in such an expensive type as a modern battleship. The principle was right, and after consulting the other Sea Lords it was decided that the two rudders should be fitted. The beam of the new ship was limited to 80 feet, as a ship with more beam would not go into any of the existing docks. After a great deal of trouble the sheer drawings of the design were finished, and they were signed and approved by the Board before I went on leave. I had not been away a fortnight before a letter came from Mr. Watts, saying, “I think that I should like to have a third rudder, and I want to have two feet more beam.” That was very startling; and the end of it was that the new design had to be postponed, and the design of the King Edward VII class was again selected for the three battleships to be built.

Sir John Fisher joined the Admiralty as First Sea Lord just as I was leaving; he was keen on building Dreadnoughts. The two first ships of the design, the Dreadnought and the Invincible, were built in an advertised time, something like eighteen months; but to do this, the turrets, guns, etc., destined for two battleships nearing completion, the Lord Nelson and Agamemnon, were put on board the Dreadnought and Invincible, and the despoiled battleships were not completed for three years. A great deal of credit was given to Sir John and the Director of Naval Construction for the rapidity with which the Dreadnoughts were built, but very few people knew they took the guns, etc., from these other two battleships, thus delaying their completion.

During the time I was Controller, the work was hard and strenuous and was made more difficult by the opposition of the Director of Naval Construction and the Engineer-in-Chief, who objected to new ideas.

  • Go To Chapter 11. Chapter 13.